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5 Films About Real-Life Killer Couples You May Have Missed: Satanic Cults, Lonely Hearts Killers And More
Before Peter Jackson helmed the “Lord of the Rings” films, he tackled a shocking true story of matricide, and a Belgian horror director took on the very American Lonely Hearts Killers in 2014.
This article was updated to reflect the 2022 season of "Snapped: Killer Couples."
Lovers whose passion turned lethal has provided the inspiration for countless cinematic thrillers and gripping TV shows.
Oxygen’s hit series “Killer Couples” returns Sunday, April 17 at 6/5c on Oxygen with more pairs of lethal lovers. The series dives into the troubled relationships of lovers whose passion drives them to commit unthinkable acts. Using recreations and gripping firsthand accounts, each episode tracks how the couples’ relationships evolved once love turned into manipulation, and what ultimately drove them to commit the ultimate crimes.
Can’t wait for the drama? We rounded up five under-the-radar films which tap into the same intensity and based their murderous antiheroes on real-life killer couples. All of these directors approach these horrific stories from different styles, and their takes may thrill, upset or even delight viewers.
These stories of love gone terribly wrong include little children with a bond so strong they would kill to protect it, seriously warped middle-aged lovers getting their kicks from sexual abuse and torture, and satanic, drug-dealing cultists. And, filmmakers just had to come calling.
‘Hounds of Love’: David and Catherine Birnie
Australian filmmaker Ben Young’s directorial debut “Hounds of Love” shook audiences up with its horrifying take on a young woman’s ordeal after she’s abducted by a middle-aged couple, who wants to use her as their sexual plaything.
The film bears eerie similarities to the case of David and Catherine Birnie, who raped and murdered four women in their suburban Perth, Australia, home in 1986, as reported in a 2013 News Corp article.
Young insisted in interviews after the film’s release that he did not base the story strictly on the Birnie’s crimes, but rather nine similar cases. Young took an interest in female serial killers after reading a book, and said “our intention was never to provide notoriety for those not worthy of it,” according to the West Australian.
The Birnies were caught after a fifth intended victim escaped their home, and given life sentences, according to News Corp. David hanged himself in his cell in 2005; Catherine was kept from attending his funeral.
‘Heavenly Creatures’: Pauline Parker and Julet Hulme
Before he shot to international fame with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson directed a series of low-budget horror films and this oddly romantic, subtle film about a chilling real-life murder.
In June 1954, in Christchurch, best friends Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme — 16 and 15, respectively —bludgeoned Pauline’s mother to death with a brick in a sock. The girls were the closest of friends, with a rich fantasy life that appeared to overtake their reality. They resorted to violence, believing it would keep their concerned parents from separating them, according to the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
The girls were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life but they were released after five years. In later years, Hulme changed her name to Anne Perry, and launched a career as a highly successful mystery novelist, according to NZ Herald.
Jackson’s film was critically lauded, and was Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet’s feature debut, playing Hulme. It mixes stop-motion and special-effects fantasy sequences with a realistic portrait of the girls’ genuine, but unhealthy, love, culminating in the murder of Pauline’s mother.
‘Alleluia’: Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck
Raymond Fernandez was a bald, toupee-wearing con man in the mid-1940s, when he began a self-education in voodoo and the occult, according to Time Magazine. He thought he had acquired supernatural power over women, and began preying on them through singles ads in romance magazines. His plan was to romance and rob the women.
When he met 300-pound Martha Beck, however, a romance of sorts blossomed, according to a Law Library case summary. The two entered a partnership, teaming up to gain the women’s confidence, but Beck’s jealousy soon got the best of them, according to Time: They started killing their marks — the lethal lovers may have killed as many as 20 women.
They were caught and charged only after murdering a widow and her child in 1949, according to Time. They were charged and confessed to two murders, and were executed in 1951. The press gave them the name “The Lonely Hearts Killers.”
Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz’s “Alleluia” tells the story of Fernandez and Beck in the guise of Gloria and Michel. It focuses on the control dynamic between the crazed lovers, and the erotic obsession that Gloria/Beck had with Michel/Fernandez — amid the brutal, bloody murder.
‘Badlands’: Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate
Legendary director Terrance Malick’s first film was not only a remarkable artistic achievement that has since been widely lauded as one of the greatest American films of all time — it was also based on the too-true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate’s teenage murder spree.
From 1957 to 1958, the couple — 19 and 14 at the time —embarked on a violent odyssey that left as many as 10 people murdered. Starkweather was only tried for the murder of Robert Jensen, according to the Casper Star Tribune, although notes from a Nebraska deputy sheriff outlined in great detail the other murders he is widely understood to have committed. The two were eventually captured after a chase, roadblock and gunfight, during which, Starkweather surrendered.
He would only be charged with one murder, according to the Star Tribune, although notes from a Nebraska deputy sheriff outlined in great detail the other murders Starkweather is widely understood to have committed. Fugate’s involvement in the actual killings has been debated in the decades since.
The character of Kit Carruthers is inspired by Starkweather, played by a young Martin Sheen, in “Badlands,” while the character of Holly Stargis is based on Fugate, and played by Sissy Spacek. Around the time of the film’s release, Mallick said that he wanted the film to feel “like a fairy tale, outside time, like ‘Treasure Island,’” according to film journal Sight and Sound.
‘Borderland’: Adolfo Constanzo and Sara Aldrete
Zev Berman’s film plays faster and looser with the facts of the case upon which it is based than almost any other on this list, but “Borderland” still makes for tense, frightening viewing.
The film follows a group of young male college grads who take a spur-of-the-moment vacation into Mexico, where they party a bit too hard and find themselves in the grasp of a drug cartel-connected Satanic cult looking for blood sacrifices that they hope will make them invisible to border patrol agents.
While “Borderland” takes a slasher-film approach to the material, the bones of the story are rooted in the case of Cuban American cult godfather Adolfo Constanzo and his partner in crime, Sara Aldrete — featured on “Killer Couples” years ago. She played the role of godmother in Constanzo’s bloodthirsty border cult that killed at least 13 people — including an American college student — in blood sacrifices in the late 1980s, according to SF Gate.
Operating in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, between 1986 and 1989, the group operated what federales and American law enforcement officers described as “a human slaughterhouse” at Santa Elena Ranch, according to a 1989 Rolling Stone article.
About a month after the hideous discovery at Santa Elena, Constanzo was surrounded by police while hiding out in an apartment in Mexico City, according to Rolling Stone. He lost it and began firing indiscriminately out the windows, as well as shooting cash, before ordering one of his subordinates to shoot kill him and his longtime friend.
Aldrete was sentenced to 647 years in prison at first, but the sentence that was later reduced to roughly 60 years, according to SF Gate.
For a fresh collection of the most twisted real-life lovers who killed, don’t miss the season premiere of “Killer Couples" Sunday, April 17 at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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